Books

Review: Historical World War II novel 'The Room on Rue Amelie' too predictable to excite

Fans of “The Nightingale” and “All the Light We Cannot See” might be drawn to Kristin Harmel’s latest release, “The Room on Rue Amelie.” Yet another entry into the World War II historical fiction genre, Harmel attempts to capture the emotion and danger of living in occupied territory during one of the most violent times in the 20th century.

“The Room on Rue Amelie” tells the story of Ruby, recovering from a marriage that has fallen apart and the sudden loss of her only child. Ruby takes in her teenage neighbor, Charlotte, a Jew, after her parents are deported by the Nazis.

Ruby and Charlotte are determined to survive the Nazi occupation of Paris by keeping Charlotte’s heritage a secret, and when both women become involved in the Resistance, they put their lives on the line and live in constant fear of their secret being exposed.

“The Room on Rue Amelie” skews more toward a family drama and romance novel than historical fiction. Much of the story is focused on the relationship between Ruby and Charlotte as they navigate the path of what it means to be a mother and what it means to be a daughter.

There is no biological bond between Ruby and Charlotte, just a spoken promise to a mother and father ripped away by the Nazis, and as the relationship between the two women evolves from friendship to more parental in nature, Harmel attempts to navigate the difficult waters of an adoptive relationship.

As Charlotte comes of age over the course of the story, a bit of time is spent exploring her growing awareness of what is happening to in world around her and how she wants to make a difference in that world, regardless of the dangers.

It is unfortunate that Ruby’s and Charlotte’s reactions, when they are in opposition to each other, are predictable. Whether it is what brings them together, divides them for brief periods and eventually brings them together again, their emotions and reactions to the situations around them feel as if they are just skimming the surface.

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Like a pebble skipped across a stream, events cause large splashes of emotion that ripple out in predictable, quickly fading patterns. The reader never truly connects with what is driving both characters beyond just day-to-day survival during the Nazi occupation.

Even the romantic entanglements in “The Room on Rue Amelie” follow the predictable pattern of forbidden love. Both Ruby and Charlotte meet men who are archetypes; neither man stands out as particularly memorable. While the romance is exciting because of the forbidden nature, the love doesn’t seem to go much deeper than that. Like Charlotte and Ruby’s relationship, both love stories follow a somewhat predictable pattern until the end of the novel.

Harmel does her best to give readers a peek into the life of Parisians during the Nazi occupation by examining how relationships begin, grow and change during difficult times. It’s unfortunate the predictable actions and reactions of the characters prevent “The Room on Rue Amelie” from ever reaching the heart-tugging emotional level that might be expected for a story set during this tumultuous time.

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